Why would someone assume he could walk through airport security in the United States carrying heroine, ketamine, cocaine, marijuana and an assortment of pills like Lorazepam and Xanax? Vikram Chatwal, billionaire socialite and hotelier, tried to do exactly that on 2 April at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Most of his stash was in the crotch of his pants.
He was charged on eight drug counts, including felony trafficking because of the amount of heroin. He was released on a bond of around $56,000, but faces a three-year prison term if indicted. News reports in the US quoted ‘sources and friends’ as saying he had a serious substance abuse problem and needed help.
The trail of Chatwal’s ‘problem’ cuts across continents. In early 2010, he entered a rehabilitation facility at Masina Hospital in Byculla, Mumbai. A Mumbai Mirror article at the time said it was for alcohol addiction and not drug abuse. Post-rehab, he was said to be sober and even “repulsed by the smell of alcohol”. The source quoted by the Mirror identified his partying as the primary cause of his condition.
Jaydeep Ghosh, a blogger with the website Fashion Scandal, had attended the lavish Chatwal wedding and remembers bride Priya Sachdev getting upset after she caught Chatwal snorting lines of coke with a couple of his ‘firang’ friends. “Like Kate Moss stored her drugs in a Fabergé egg, Vikram wore a huge skull ring on his finger which had his stash. In fact, Chatwal then went alone for his honeymoon as Priya refused to go.” Ghosh says a Mumbai socialite got the couple together, and that it was a marriage of convenience. Chatwal’s conservative mother wanted a Punjabi bride.
Sant Singh, Chatwal’s father, started Hampshire Hotels and Resorts and built it into a successful chain. His son was born in Ethiopia, and grew up in Montreal and New York. Chatwal attended Wharton and then worked for Morgan Stanley. In 2009, he started Dream Hotels, which has properties in India, Bangkok, New York and Miami. The hotels are a hot bed for celebrities. Chatwal is something of a pioneer when it comes to walking the line between glamour and business. He modelled for Vogue (US) as its first Sikh model and has also been on the cover of Forbes Asia.
Ghosh says Chatwal’s father is the man behind the family’s business success. Sant Chatwal was a survivor. He filed for bankruptcy in the 90s when he couldn’t pay back loans during a real estate slump. But he bounced back. Even Vikram was threatened with bankruptcy in 2010 after he fell behind on a $99 million loan for Dream Hotels. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the Chatwals had to restructure their loans. They then expanded and opened new hotels. BornRich.com puts Chatwal’s net worth at $450 Million as of 2013. “Vikram wakes up every day at one in the afternoon. How can he handle the business? The father does everything,” says Ghosh.
Even though he was based in New York, Chatwal was a constant in Delhi’s social scene, especially after his dream wedding to Priya that was conducted over three cities in 2006. They divorced four years later. Chatwal continued to be seen at parties in India and the US with the cream of the glamour world. His friends include Naomi Campbell—who he convinced to walk the ramp at Lakme Fashion Week in 2009—Sean Combs (known earlier as Puff Daddy), Padma Lakshmi and Deepak Chopra. He has reportedly had flings with Giselle Bündchen and Kate Moss. His latest lover and best friend is said to be the troubled actress-singer Lindsay Lohan, who tried to wean him off drugs before his latest bust. He also tried his hand at acting in Bollywood and appeared, among other films, in Reema Kagti’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd. He spent two stints in rehab—one in Mumbai and one in the US.
Many of Chatwal’s friends and acquaintances in Delhi and Mumbai society refused to speak about him. Of the willing few, a public relations company head who often hobnobs with Delhi’s elite says that Chatwal’s wife had good reason to leave him, thanks to his drug addiction. “She was from a much more conservative family. She is someone we all admire—a stunner and a hard-working girl. He was a philanderer from the beginning. That said, I saw him some time ago with his daughter at a party and he is an indulgent and loving father. He kept her on his shoulders for the entire party.” She adds, though, that everyone in the Delhi socialite circle indulges in drugs. “It’s quite an open thing. He had always been spoilt and got everything he wanted. Priya got pregnant very fast and tried to hold on to him, but the glamorous life is what he likes.”
In a 2011 Observer piece, George Gurley recounted telling Chatwal that he was “hardly a hell raiser”. Chatwal responded, “That’s the Scorpio side of me. Scorpios are either religious or sexual. You know, Mother Teresa and Gandhi were Scorpios, but so was Charles Manson. So it’s a real sort of balance. That’s where the passion comes in. So sometimes I have that subdued, religious feel, but sometimes I’ll let it out and go completely sexual. Or nuts. Like when I’m with Puff [Daddy].” Gurley noted that Gandhi and Mother Teresa were not Scorpios, but Libra and Virgo, respectively. Chatwal told Gurley about the women he loved; Brazilians topped the list. He said, “Russian women are sort of deal-makers; they are the smartest business people I’ve met. Indian women talk about marriage and kids before they’ve had the first date. British women … I’ve never met women who act so civilised but are so crazy—the craziest bunch of women I’ve ever met. Just nuts. Real mental.”
Columnist and image guru Dilip Cherian, who is part of the Delhi socialite circle, says that whatever he knew of Chatwal didn’t spell good news: “There is a type—the young, restless and over-rich set who like crossing boundaries. They have three things that describe them: they like to flout the law, they know their fathers will get them out of trouble and they think the law is for other people. The way things are going, obviously all is not well in the Garden of Eden.”